Pilgrims Who Make No Progress

by Gene Edward Veith

To describe life as a journey is such a perfect metaphor that writers in every age return to it again and again. Western culture is full of pilgrims, headed in different directions, to different destinations. Before John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, there was Piers Plowman by an anonymous medieval writer. Both are allegories that are, at the same time, highly realistic. Instead of reflecting the sophisticated society of the courts and the universities, both come out of the world of peasants, craftsmen, and farmers. Both authors were poor and uneducated, and yet both were literary geniuses.

But they write about very different pilgrimages. The pilgrim in Piers Plowman goes through a tortuous path to find “Do-Well.” When he does, he next has to go on another trip to find “Do-Better.” But that is not enough. When he attains “Do-Better,” he next must go through another labyrinthine and confusing journey to find “Do-Best.” And he never finds what he is looking for. The author was never able to bring his story to a finish.

Piers Plowman reflects . . .

[s o u r c e]

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